Meet the Press interviewer: Two-thirds of the American people now say the Iraq war wasn’t worth it.
Dick Cheney: So?
Webster Tarpley used to be a La Rouchie. I have to admit that’s not really grounds for credibility in my book. He has since distanced himself from the bizarre political cult that is La Rouchism, only to become one of the primary voices among 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Another reason for caution, perhaps—although his book on the subject: 9/11, Synthetic Terror Made in the USA, received high praise from at least one serious reviewer. Be all that as it may, on March 19th, while a few hundred people were disrupting traffic in the streets of San Francisco in order to protest five years of US aggression in Iraq, I was listening to him talk about the evils of monetarism on the local Pacifica radio station. This is one of Tarpley’s big subjects, and it turns out that he is no more fringe-y in his economic analysis or his economic prescriptions than a garden-variety Roosevelt Democrat (which I suppose, in this day and age in America is like saying he is a Bolshevik or a child molester or something).
As I listened to his detailed analysis of the financial crisis, many pieces of the frantically fractured contemporary scene seemed to click softly into place. I got the sense of a system that some years ago had already begun—erratically, almost lazily, and still imperceptibly to many—to spin out of control. In 1999, around the time the departing Clinton administration tore down the wall between commercial and investment banking that had stood since the Great Depression, Tarpley wrote about the symptoms of economic collapse as a result of monetary policy and uncontrolled speculation, and how to identify the sequential stages of a coming US collapse and its consequences. His stages have since begun unfolding before our eyes. I’m not an economist; I wield metaphors, not statistics. To me, what he was saying was, if you take the brakes off a car and floor the gas pedal, sooner or later you’re going to crash.
Tarpley’s 1999 book was entitled Surviving the Cataclysm: Your Guide Through the Worst Financial Crash in History. His sixth chapter was on Collapse, his seventh on Disintegration. The cheery title of his radio talk on the 19th was “Beyond Collapse to Disintegration: Surviving the Coming Depression.” Apparently he still thinks we’re proceeding on schedule. Tarpley was also sounding a note of historic caution; he went into great detail about the parallels between Weimar Germany and the present day U.S.—if we get hyperinflation, or a crash of the dollar, which the Fed’s desperately pouring money into the system could cause, as they well know, we can start looking at those pictures of impoverished Germans in the 1920s trying to buy eggs with wheelbarrows full of cash and say to ourselves: how could we be so stupid as to let this happen to us? Once you clear the gassy, seductive fog produced by speculative bubbles, two things really matter in terms of economic stability under capitalism: that your society actually produces a sufficient number of things to buy and sell, and that a critical mass of people owns land/property from which it cannot easily be dispossessed. Well, no one who hasn’t been living in cable-TV induced stupor for the last 15 years can miss that we make almost nothing anymore, and now we’re losing our homes too. One in ten U. S. homeowners now owes more on their property than it is worth in the current market.
As I watched the Feds come galloping in to rescue Wall Street’s burning house this week, with their fire hoses sloshing 30 billion dollars of our money on the charred heap of Bear Stearns, and then listened to Tarpley, I couldn’t help remembering a scene in Dumb and Dumber (don’t ask me why I saw that movie, but it’s truly a touchstone for me now) where Jim Carrey says brightly to Jeff Daniels: “Well, we’re in a hole now, and we’re just going to have DIG ourselves OUT of it!”
And then, of course, there’s this endless state of war. The really disturbing parallel with 20th century Germany for Tarpley is that even though economically we are Weimar, we already have our Hitler in office: his name is Dick Cheney, and he wants us to go to war with Iran. Cheney is nowhere near as popular as Hitler was in 1939, when he urged his generals to invade Poland, and may even have arranged a provocative event to justify the decision once they agreed to do so. But Cheney is no less powerful for all that, no less determined, and for the same reasons: ideology and (voodoo) economics. And now time is really short: only 10 months to go. Like Hitler, in a conversation Tarpley cites from William Shirer’s book on the Third Reich, Cheney knows that the U.S. could soon be too poor and too embroiled in expanding economic unrest to maintain the degree of military might it still possesses. And the banking sector, which keeps grasping for ground and finding that the quicksand is already everywhere, is ripe for uncontrolled panic, from which, as Tarpley says, “the leap forward into war has often come as a relief.” The only heartening news in Tarpley’s worsening-case scenario comes from inside the military itself, which knows better than anyone how overstretched it already is. A desperate struggle is being waged behind the wall of silence that the military brass maintains with the public, and it has to be the main, if not the only, reason we have not already begun bombing Iran.
Because what I listened to and watched these past few days also gave me the sense of an opposition movement that has been utterly outstripped by events. In the San Francisco streets, cops outnumbered demonstrators in every protest. Almost everybody hates the war, but the amount of vitriol being poured out on various media comments pages, from the San Francisco Chronicle to You Tube, against the very notion of protest itself is at least a circumstance to be reckoned with. It is Cheney’s contempt writ large. What else seems to be on the verge of collapse, in our public culture at least, is empathy: we spend so little face-time with our fellow citizens that we are ever-more inclined to lash out at shadow-culprits or Judas-goats online, from the comfortable darkness of anonymity. We’re all strangers to one another in the virtual polity, even to many of the people we euphemistically call “friends.”
Pointless. Useless. Pitiful display of retro-posturing by wannabe-activist-hipster types who parade around and PRETEND they are doing something. “Look at us we’re maarrcchhiinnggg…weeee!!”. POSERS!! GO TO WASHINGTON AND MARCH! These people are doing nothing but “preaching to the choir” and tying up SF traffic. What a pathetic mess…
This comment was typical of a large percentage of what I “listened” to online that day—although it was far from universal. Perhaps because many more conservative places throughout the country held protests or vigils, the dismissal of protest as mere acting out by a privileged and self-indulgent subculture was not as deafening as I have seen it here in the past.
But how about where the rubber hits the Silk Road? At the Winter Soldier hearings in the D.C. area over the weekend, Iraq and Afghanistan vets testified passionately, eloquently and insightfully about what empire does to human lives: the lives of those who prosecute it, and the lives of those who are in its way. In an historical repeat of the 1971 Vietnam-focused original, there was no corporate media coverage of their words or images. This was, if nothing else, a tremendous chance for empathy missed. On a local radio talk show on the 19th, unrelated to the hearings, a Bay Area vet who had been homeless after he was discharged and now works for Swords to Ploughshares finally came out and said, in a tired but determined voice, what millions of cowed consumers of the relentless barrage of Big Lies apparently still need to be told: “You don’t have to support the war to support the troops.”
On the 19th in the afternoon, I went out to San Francisco State University, where I had heard students were planning to rally against the war. Fees have gone up almost 100% in the past five years. New fee hikes and cuts in programs are looming—throughout California social services are on the chopping block. Unemployment is up. Working class students are obvious cannon fodder. The connections couldn’t be clearer.
Yet there was no rally. A few dispirited looking organizers stood around the student union plaza. Someone seemed to have forgotten the crucial step of organizing for this action. Instead, as on any other day, hundreds of students milled along the paths, heads crooked into their cellphones, skateboarders (some also on cellphones) wove with eyes glazed through the crowds. I couldn’t help thinking: with all these communications devices getting in the way, how do we reach one another anymore? And I remembered the wife of another soldier on that radio talk show saying how grateful she was for the miracle of modern technology, because now she could talk to her husband in Iraq almost every day by satellite phone. As she described what it was like to watch their child take its first steps without him there, the bandage-on-a-gaping-wound syndrome was painfully obvious. Yet she was determined to look on the bright side. Meet the new, improved opiate of the masses: communications technology.
Ironically, I reflected, the only political group that has had a visible, persistent presence on the SFSU campus in the three years I’ve been pursuing a graduate degree there has been Lyndon La Rouche’s.
I knew that the SFSU students were not terminally apathetic or incapable of being mobilized. Hundreds showed up recently for a national teach-in on global warming. But even though I think anti-protest comments like the one I quoted above are missing the point, there still seems to be a gap you could fit a battalion in between public protest and actual organizing against the war, and the people that I know in activist circles don’t know what to do about it any more than I do, because they are mostly part of a professional sector that has little connection with the public beyond the base they’ve built to support the particular set of issues or concerns of the non-profit or union they work for. Iraq Veterans Against the War may have recognized this disconnect when it asked that mass demonstrations not be called in Washington during the Winter Soldier hearings, although if the idea was that media attention would be distracted, well, that proved to be moot. But IVAW seemed undeterred by the absence of corporate media, probably because they are engaged in the slow, un-dramatic, day-to-day process of organizing the unorganized, “at the point of production” as the Marxists would say, that is, among the most critical sector of the public for effectively challenging militarism: the active duty military.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my activist friends; I honor their dedication and their willingness to act on their beliefs, to time and time again be some kind of lightning rod for public opinion, and if they don’t feel the crippling isolation I feel from the unorganized majority, if they don’t think that public anti-war rallies and civil disobedience actions, because they are disconnected from organizing efforts outside the activist sector, have tended to devolve into a tired, professionalized and easily marginalized theatrics, then I stand corrected. But this year, for the first time in many years, instead of joining them in the streets, I decided to stay home in the shadowlands of America and just listen.
What else did I did hear this week? The Obama speech on race in America, which seemed nuanced, intelligent, cautious, highly ethical, reasonable, and in no way earth-shattering. The result? He plummets in the polls. What quote comes to mind there? Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat in All the President’s Men: “They didn’t want to run against Muskie; look what happened to Muskie. They wanted to run against McGovern; look who they’re running against.” You can hear the wheels turning in the party strategists’ brains: if McCain runs against Clinton, the Clinton haters who might have sat it out will show up, the progressives who might have held their noses once again and voted for Obama, and the new voters, will drop out, and McCain will win. He’s already beating both of them in national polls anyway… Any takers? And then: remember “Ba-ba-ba, ba-bomb Iran?” Cheney wins again.
Tarpley sees collapse now unfolding, a hair’s breadth away from unleashing more militarism, and even the shadow of martial law, the end game of end games. I distrust apocalyptic collapse scenarios (as I’ve already written in Dissident Voice) as much as I distrust conspiratorial hypotheses that allow no room for human creativity, altruism, conscience and critical awareness to play a role in shaping history. But Cheney will not allow himself to be deterred, as he told us on Meet the Press over the weekend, particularly if the spreading economic pain begins to lap at the shores of his rich friends’ islands. And so my personal choice after listening around these past few days was, belatedly, to do something concrete to support the troops who oppose the occupation or who want to come home ASAP or get out or talk others out of going in. Having lived inside the activist bubble for years, I’m as isolated from the military as anyone. But when it comes down to it, if I could find some way to do so, I’d even support some of their commanders, the ones who aren’t power-mad or corrupt or craven, and are right now the thin green line standing between us and the Persian Abyss (because I think we know it’s no longer just a Gulf, friends). Not to mention martial law.
Tarpley finished his talk by citing the additions to the Bill of Rights which he said Roosevelt had wanted to insert into the Constitution: the right to health care, education through college, housing, dignified work. Nationalize the Federal Reserve now, said Tarpley. All that seems fairly quaint, for the moment, in spite of the fact that even the mainstream media has acknowledged a “crisis” in every single one of those areas. But things could—no, will—change, are changing. Will the Depression hit for real, and if so, what then? Will it be Weimar or the Waltons? Russia or Argentina? Stay tuned. And in the meantime, support the troops…